Israel strikes in Gaza as Obama envoy holds talks
29 January, 2009
GAZA: Israeli warplanes bombed a weapons production facility in Gaza on Thursday after militants fired a rocket at Israel, in violence that defied the efforts of a visiting U.S. peace envoy to reinforce a ceasefire.
There were no reports of injuries from the predawn Israeli strike in the town of Rafah, along Gaza`s border with Egypt. Witnesses and Hamas said a metal foundry was damaged.
Moments earlier, a militant group with links to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas`s Fatah movement claimed responsibility for firing a rocket at southern Israel late on Wednesday.
The rocket was the first fired from Gaza since Israel and Hamas called separate ceasefires ending a 22-day Israeli offensive on Jan. 18.
It caused no casualties, but Israeli leaders facing a Feb. 10 election in a campaign focussed on security concerns, have vowed to respond to rocket salvoes its offensive in Gaza had aimed to curtail.
Israel has said it will hold Gaza`s Hamas rulers responsible for all attacks launched from the coastal territory, and had warned of a stronger response to the killing of a soldier on Tuesday in an explosion by a Gaza border fence.
"We will remain ready, with our finger on the trigger around the clock," Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of Israel`s decision-making security cabinet said in remarks televised on Wednesday.
Hamas defended Tuesday`s bombing, citing the killing of two Palestinians by Israel last week. Israeli forces killed one Palestinian, identified by Gaza medical workers as a farmer after the bombing and later wounded a militant on a motorcycle.
The violence clouded a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama`s Middle East envoy, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who said in Jerusalem on Wednesday it was "of critical importance that the ceasefire be extended and consolidated" with respect to Israel and Gaza.
Mitchell met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday and will meet Abbas on Thursday.
Western diplomats said Mitchell would not meet Hamas, the group shunned by the U.S. and Europe for it refusal to recognise Israel.
"President Obama has said the United States is committed to Israel`s security and to its right to defend itself against legitimate threats," Mitchell said.
Some 1,300 Palestinians, including at least 700 civilians, were killed in the offensive, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said. Israel put its death toll in the war at 10 soldiers and three civilians.